I chanced upon a brilliant post by Jeremiah Owyang, renowned web strategist and thought leader, on Advocacy Marketing. This new form of Word Of Mouth marketing is different from the traditional areas as advocates are like members of your inner circle – your best customers so to speak.
Quoting from Jeremiah:
“Companies aren’t trusted, brands aren’t trusted, and nor are your executives. People trust each other, and now they have the tools to communicate with each other using social technologies and mobile with or without brands involved. As a result, trust has shifted to the participants. Many brands, knowing their credibility has diminished, rely on advocacy programs where trusted members of the community are given a platform and encouraged to speak.”
Examples of effective advocacy programmes are Walmart’s Elevenmoms as well as Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional or MVP.
The drawbacks of any advocacy programme are the lack of controls over what your advocates choose to say. Advocates aren’t your corporate messengers. They cannot be spoonfed with the right scripts to utter be it online or offline. However, they are believers who are not only premium clients and customers, but proud of being so.
How does one build a successful advocacy programme? Well, Jeremiah has the answers here (paraphrased by me):
1. Get Internal Teams Prepared First. Don’t just shoot off a programme without getting buy in from the rest of the staff.
2. Find Credible Advocates. These should be folks with a significant network or who are well regarded in their circles. They could be people with a sizeable number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends, or just actively involved in various social clubs and forums.
3. Ensure The Advocacy Program Is Above Board. Try to disclose everything as much as possible and ensure that your advocates are visible enough. Shilling is strongly discouraged.
4. Ensure It Matches Up With Their Agenda. The last thing you want to do is to appoint an advocate who has zero interest in what you do.
5. Incentivize Them With Special Access –But Don’t Pay Them. These benefits could include exclusive invites, previews, and thank you functions that are limited to the group.
6. Hand Over The Microphone –Give Them The Platform. As much as possible, let them say it in their own voices. Anything else may come across as orchestrated and fake.
7. Intake Negative Feedback –But Be Actionable. Remember that they are not drawing their paychecks from you. In fact, an occasional critical comment may be more believable than a non-stop flow of praise.
8. Provide Them With Communication Tools. These could leverage on what’s already available online – blogs, facebook, twitter, youtube videos, flickr photos – or could be customised for your business.
9. Define Success Based On Influence And Reduced Cost. Ultimately, the credibility of your advocates are important as well as their influence on their respective followers and networks.
10. Got An Idea? Leave a Comment. Finally, engage them as much as possible and encourage them to contribute ideas and suggestions for improvements. You want advocates to be proactively involved in your business and not just be passive conveyors of your corporate spiel.
I wished I had read Jeremiah’s post earlier as it would have influenced how I would have run certain advocacy oriented programmes. Nevertheless, I believe that the future still lies in third party advocacy by the people whom you rely on the most in any business – your best customers.